Plaintiff Denied Summary Judgment in New Year’s Eve Party Accident

It’s New Year’s Eve – a time for reflection, and, of course, revelry. New Year’s Eve parties are a great opportunity to connect with friends, and to bring in the new year with a bang. Sometimes they’re completely enjoyable – and sometimes a shelf collapses on your head.

In C.I.R. v. Mangaroni, LLC, No. 156031/2015, 2019 WL 3206147, 2019 N.Y. Slip Op. 32054(U) (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County July 16, 2019), the court denied plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment. Here, plaintiff alleged that while attending a New Years’ Eve party at the defendant restaurant in Manhattan, a shelf above a bench on which she was sitting suddenly collapsed and struck her head. In her complaint, plaintiff alleged causes of action for negligence and “res ipsa loquitur.”

It is relatively rare for a plaintiff to be awarded summary judgment in a personal injury action, since the issue of negligence is, by its nature, highly fact sensitive. That said, one type of case in which a plaintiff might be entitled to summary judgement is where an object (typically, but not always, part of a ceiling collapses on plaintiff).

Here, the court held that plaintiff was not entitled to summary judgment, explaining (citations and internal quotatoin marks omittd):

Even assuming that the plaintiff met her burden of proof in the first instance, the defendant raised triable issues of fact in regard to the claim of negligence, particularly in regard to whether the defendant created or had notice of any defective or dangerous condition on the premises and the whether the plaintiff’s injuries were due in part to any voluntary action or contribution on the part of the plaintiff or another attendee at the party.

The principle of res ipsa loquitur is available to a plaintiff only if she can establish three elements (1) the injury-causing event must be of a kind that ordinarily does not occur in the absence of negligence; (2) it must be caused by an agency or instrumentality within the exclusive control of the defendant; and (3) it must not have been due to any voluntary action or contribution on the part of the plaintiff. … In confirming that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is rarely applicable, the Court of Appeals [has] observed that [o]ver the last century, the Appellate Division has held barely more than a dozen times that a plaintiff is entitled to summary judgment or a directed verdict in res ipsa loquitur cases. This is not one of those exceptional cases. The plaintiff has not established in her motion papers, by expert evidence or other proof, that her injuries were the type that ordinarily do not occur in the absence of negligence. … Moreover, the proof submitted demonstrates that at the time of the accident, at a New Year’s Eve party where there were up to 40 people in the room, the defendant did not have exclusive control over the instrumentality of the injury, the shelf. … While the trial evidence may be greater, the plaintiff has not established, by proof in admissible form, her entitlement to judgment as a matter of law.

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